In the bustling world of travel tech, Vancouver-based startup Pilot is soaring above the competition with its audacious goal: to become the global nexus of travel experiences. How? By harnessing the power of artificial intelligence, Pilot has crafted an all-encompassing social trip-planning platform that promises to revolutionize how we discover, plan, book, and share our adventures with friends. And here’s the kicker: this dynamic travel companion was recently unveiled at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023 in San Francisco as part of the Battlefield 200 cohort.
Picture this: A serendipitous moment in 2019, when Connor Wilson, the founder and CEO of Pilot, was traversing Europe, ignited the spark for this game-changing venture. In the bleak wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when the world was at a standstill, Wilson assembled a visionary team of four founders to bring Pilot to life. Fast forward to 2022, and the beta version of their app took flight, garnering an astonishing 5,000 users in record time. Astonishingly, that number has now catapulted to over 20,000, all without a hint of proactive marketing.
Why such a rapid ascent? Wilson attributes it to Pilot’s ability to fill a gaping void in the travel market. He explained in a recent interview with TechCrunch, “The traditional approach to travel planning is very siloed, rigid, and surprisingly devoid of the social connection that is intrinsic to the travel experience.” Pilot, he insists, is engineered from the traveler’s perspective, embracing collaboration and personalization as its guiding stars.
But wait, Pilot is not your run-of-the-mill social network. It’s more like a creative blend of “consumer software with social functionality,” akin to the likes of Google Docs, Notion, and Strava, rather than Facebook.
Indeed, the world is no stranger to AI travel apps, but Wilson firmly emphasizes that Pilot is not about randomly connecting users for travel companionship, nor does it function as an AI-driven travel agency. “Users are not blindly meeting strangers through the Pilot app. They have complete control over who they share their plans with,” Wilson clarifies. “Our platform equips them with the tools to connect and collaborate with their friends, family, and partners through travel.”
Central to this endeavor is Quickstart, Pilot’s AI trip planner, which crafts itineraries with personalized recommendations based on the preferences of the traveling party. Users can seamlessly request changes or edits via a chat with the AI, making trip planning an intuitive and collaborative affair. Creating a trip is a breeze; users simply sign up, click “Create a trip,” and select their specific interests with just a few clicks. Moreover, Pilot facilitates booking accommodations and flights, simplifying the entire process. After the voyage, users can immortalize their experiences by sharing their trips on the platform’s blog.
“It may remind people of ChatGPT at first, but it’s the visual layout and robust recommendations that set it apart,” Wilson proudly affirms.
Pilot operates on an affiliate model, meaning it’s free for users while generating revenue through commissions from vendors when users book their travels via the platform. But, crucially, revenue isn’t the primary focus at this juncture. Wilson states, “We’ve been diligently building the platform for trip planning and nurturing our community. This positions us perfectly to explore limitless monetization opportunities.”
Currently accessible worldwide through its web app, serving English-speaking countries, Pilot has an eagerly awaited mobile app set to launch later this year. The company has ambitious plans to expand into the Latin American and Asian markets, catering to a diverse range of travelers. Wilson asserts, “Our aim is to benefit all types of travelers, but for now, our user base primarily comprises underserved travelers—those who relish group travel, backpackers, digital nomads, and remote workers seeking to maximize their shared experiences.”
In a fitting culmination of their journey, Pilot was part of the Creative Destruction Lab’s accelerator program this year, further cementing their status as a rising star in the travel tech universe.
Armed with approximately $650,000 in angel investor funding, Pilot is now setting its sights on a grander vision, looking to raise $4 million to fortify the social side of its platform. In the ever-evolving landscape of travel tech, Pilot is poised to soar higher, promising to be your trusted AI-powered companion and social hub for all your travel endeavors.